You Don’t Need to Optimize Your Kid
Most kids really only need three simple things to develop well
At the end of their baby’s checkup, the new parents looked at me earnestly and asked, “What should we do to be optimizing her development?”
The very first time a parent asked me this, the question stopped me in my tracks. I wasn’t quite sure how to answer — after all, this was a brand new baby they were talking about. All newborns do is eat, poop, sleep, and occasionally look around. They come pre-optimized.
Still, I get these questions in my pediatric practice all the time. By the time my patients are toddlers, their parents want to discuss enrichment classes.
The pressure to start maximizing our child’s development in infancy leaves us little time to enjoy them. Instead, we’re driven by anxiety: Which developmental toys should we buy? What activities should we offer? Should we speak in verbal progressions? Should we get that app that’s supposed to turn kids into geniuses? Parenthood is a storm of “should” fueled by the pressure to get it right for our children.
What parents don’t realize, though, is that the more we try to optimize child development, the more we interfere with it.
Children are self-optimizing. They naturally go after what they need to grow. Have you ever wondered why young children do so many things that seem designed to drive us crazy? It’s because kids are wired to know what they need, and they are very good at getting it. From a young age, normally developing kids primarily need only three things:
An environment to explore
When kids are left to their own devices, they tend to explore everything within reach. Not long after birth, they begin grabbing objects and putting them in their mouths, where they learn by gumming them. Soon they’re crawling and getting into everything, happily yanking all the toilet paper off the roll and opening cabinets to pull out the pots and pans. By the time they’re walking, toddlers have begun helping their parents with the laundry by grabbing the just-folded clothes and throwing them on the floor.
If there is one feature that sets humans apart from other species, it is our innovation — our…